U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski took a political stance last week which may prove unpopular with some, but we would like to commend her for making decisions she believes are in Alaska’s best interest while still ensuring a fair process in the Senate. Accomplishing both is no easy task.
On Tuesday, Sen. Murkowski voted to move the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education from the Health, Education, Labor &Pensions Committee, at the time noting that she believed in giving the full Senate the opportunity to vote on the president’s nominee, but noted that her final vote on the matter was no sure thing.
Sen. Murkowski followed that with a speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday morning in which she said she would not vote for the nominee. Murkowski said she believed DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor and promoter of charter schools, has much to learn about public education, according to the Associated Press.
“I have serious concerns about a nominee to be secretary of education who has been so involved on one side of the equation, so immersed in the push for vouchers that she may be unaware of what actually is successful within the public schools and also what is broken and how to fix them,” Murkowski said on Wednesday.
It is the kind of vote that will be used against Sen. Murkowski come election time — she is frequently cited as having voted with or against one side or the other, when in fact many of those votes are procedural, or, as was the case this week, intended to provide an opportunity for the full Senate to weigh in on an issue. Sen. Murkowski also will take heat for the decision for siding with Democrats or being “Republican in name only” — as if concerns about a nominee’s qualifications should be ignored based on the party of the president who made the nomination.
We encourage Alaskans to take a more nuanced look at Sen. Murkowski’s actions. For as long as she has been in the Senate, Murkowski has been critical of efforts to obstruct the movement of legislation or nominations to the Senate floor. Certainly, with her votes to move DeVos’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote, she has fulfilled that obligation. However, Alaska’s congressional delegation has spent decades looking out for the state in a legislative body that does not really understand Alaska, or the fact that legislation that might work elsewhere will not work here. Public education has been no exception. While he has said he will support DeVos’s nomination based on assurances that “she will work with all Alaskans to strengthen education throughout the state, in both public and private schools,” Alaska’s other senator, Dan Sullivan, has said he shares some of Sen. Murkowski’s concerns.
In the end, Murkowski’s vote may not matter. Unless another Republican breaks ranks, the decisions by Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, to vote against DeVos’ confirmation set the stage for a 50-50 tie in the Senate, in which case Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie. DeVos’s confirmation vote is likely to come Monday. But it is reassuring to know that, in what has been a tumultuous political environment, Sen. Murkowski continues to put Alaska’s interests first.